The Largest Deserts In Australia

The Great Victoria Desert, in Australia.
The Great Victoria Desert, in Australia.

Australia is one of the world's largest countries by land area, and as a result has some of the world's largest and most important deserts. Here is a list of the biggest deserts in Australia.

10. Pedirka Desert - South Australia

The Pedirka Desert is a small desert in Australia that is located about 100 km to the northwest of Oodnadatta in South Australia. The desert occupies an area of only about 1,250 square km. The sands of the desert are deep red in color and dense mulga woodlands grow in the region. The desert dunes at the Pedirka Desert are widely spaced, low and eroded. The land is presently being developed for pastoral activities.

9. Tirari Desert - South Australia

The Tirari Desert, located in South Australia’s Far North region’s eastern part, encompasses an area of 15,250 square km. Part of the desert lies within the Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park. A large number of salt lakes and sand dunes running from north to south are important features of the desert landscape. The Cooper Creek flows through the Tirari Desert. Harsh conditions prevail in the desert with high temperatures and extremely low rainfall. The crest and slopes of the dunes are covered by vegetation dominated by either Sandhill Cane-grass or Sandhill Wattle. The slopes are occupied by tall, open shrublands. The Tirari Desert also incorporates an area of paleontological significance with significant Tertiary period vertebrate fossils being discovered here.

8. Sturt Stony Desert - South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales

The Sturt Stony Desert occupies a region in South Australia’s north-eastern part. It also extends into Queensland’s far south-western border area and the far west of New South Wales. The Sturt Stony Desert lies on the Gason Dome between the Strzelecki Desert to the south-east and the Simpson Desert to the west. The desert is named after Charles Sturt who named it himself in 1844 while trying to search an inland sea in Australia. The stony terrain of the desert caused his horses to limp and wore down their hooves while trudging along the desert. The desert is mostly occupied by gibber and features several ephemeral lakes called gilgai. The Sturt Stony Desert is part of the Tirari-Sturt stony desert ecoregion. The desert features the Kowari, a native carnivorous marsupial rat which is currently classified as vulnerable by the IUCN.

7. Strzelecki Desert - South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales

The Strzelecki Desert occupies parts of South West Queensland, western New South Wales, and South Australia’s Far North Region. It is named after Paweł Edmund Strzelecki, a Polish explorer. The desert encompasses an area of 80,250 square km. The Strzelecki Creek, Cooper Creek, and Diamantina River all flow through Strzelecki Desert. Three wilderness areas and extensive dune fields are part of the desert.

6. Little Sandy Desert - Western Australia

The Little Sandy Desert is located in Western Australia and is to the west of the Gibson Desert and south of the Great Sandy Desert. The desert is named so as its landscape closely resembles that of the Great Sandy Desert. It is also located near it. The Canning Stock Route passes across both these deserts. The region is inhabited by the Mandilara indigenous inhabitants.

5. Gibson Desert - Western Australia

An interim Australian bioregion, the Gibson Desert occupies an extensive area in Western Australia. It is named after Alfred Gibson, an explorer who was lost in the desert in 1874 and was never found again. The desert occupies a vast area of about 155,000 square km which makes it Australia’s fifth biggest desert. Despite the large size, the Gibson Desert is still in a pristine state. The desert is surrounded by the Little Sandy Desert, the Great Sandy Desert, and the Great Victoria Desert. The altitude of the desert extends up to 1,600 feet in certain locations. The landscape of the Gibson Desert features gravel-covered terrains covered by desert grasses, rocky ridges, upland areas, and dune fields and undulating red sand plains. The desert also houses a few, scattered salt-water lakes. The desert experiences a generally hot climate with summer temperatures soaring above 40°C while winter temperatures may drop down to a minimum of 6 °C. Indigenous Australians live in the area and follow a traditional way of life.

4. Simpson Desert - Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia

The Simpson Desert is Australia’s fourth largest desert and the largest sand dune desert in the world. The Simpson desert occupies an area of 176,500 square km and occupies parts of Queensland, South Australia, and Northern Territory. The world’s longest parallel sand dunes are located in this desert. These dunes are static and are held in place by vegetation. The 40 meters tall Nappanerica dune is the largest dune in the area. The Simpson Desert also has the Great Artesian Basin which is one of the world’s largest inland drainage basins. The water from the basin rises to the surface at a large number of natural springs distributed throughout the desert.

The Simpson Desert is popular among tourists who visit the desert to view the Dalhousie Springs, Poeppel Corner, Approdinna Attora Knoll, etc. However, since the desert is not accessible by any maintained roads and the summer temperatures here are extremely harsh, the government has closed the desert to tourists in summer to avoid unpleasant circumstances. Drought resistant shrubs and grasses cover large sections of the desert. Fauna inhabiting the Simpson Desert include the water-holding frog, the Eyrean grasswren, the gray grasswren, etc. Several seasonal migrant birds can be spotted in the seasonal wetlands of the Simpson Desert like the Lake Eyre, the Coongie Lakes, etc. Examples include the musk duck, glossy ibis, great egret, banded stilt, and others. The mound springs of the Great Artesian Basin also host several species of fish, invertebrates, and plants.

3. Tanami Desert - Western Australia, Northern Territory

The Tanami Desert is located in Western Australia and Northern Territory. The desert has a rocky terrain with small hills and is traversed by the Tanami Track. The Tanami Deserts holds a significant place from the conservation point of view since it provides residence to some of the country’s rare and endangered species. The important fauna species found here include the little native mouse, the long-tailed planigale, the Western chestnut mouse, the freckled duck, gray falcon, etc. Several indigenous groups are also based in this desert.

2. Great Sandy Desert - Western Australia

The Great Sandy Desert, Australia’s second largest desert, is located in Western Australia’s North West. The desert encompasses an area of 284,993 square km and is surrounded by the Gibson Desert, the Great Sandy Desert, and the Tanami Desert. The desert features a famous meteorite impact crater called the Wolfe Creek and also houses several large ergs with longitudinal sand dunes. Two main groups of aboriginals, the Martu and the Pintupi people inhabit the desert. Several mining centers are also located in the region. Spinifex dominates the vegetation of the desert. Fauna living here include dingos, goannas, feral camels, bilbies, bearded dragons, red kangaroo, scarlet-chested parrot, Alexandra's parrot, thorny devils, etc.

1. Great Victoria Desert - Western Australia, South Australia

The biggest Australian desert, the Great Victoria Desert is located in Western Australia and South Australia. The desert features grassland areas and small sandhills with salt lakes and pebbled surfaces. The desert occupies an area of around 348,750 square km. The Great Victoria Desert receives low average annual rainfall between 200 and 250 mm per year. Summer temperatures range between 32 to 40 °C during the day while in winter it is between 18 and 23 °C.

The desert is a part of Australia that houses the most populous and healthy population of Indigenous Australians belonging to groups like Pitjantjatjara, Mirning, and the Kogara. Large parts of the Great Victoria Desert, however, remain uninhabited as the climate and terrain are unsuitable for human settlement. Large, pristine areas of the desert are protected areas like the Mamungari Conservation Park.

Only drought resistant plants can survive the harsh desert environment. A few species of Acacia and Eucalyptus can be found here. Spinifex grasses occupy most the of the desert landscape amidst the sandy ridges. A few mammals and birds can be found in the Great Victoria Desert. Some examples are the great desert skink, the crest-tailed mulgara, the southern marsupial mole, the sandhill dunnart, etc. The large monitor lizards, the sand goanna and the perentie, and the dingo are the active predators of the Great Victoria Desert.

The Largest Deserts In Australia

RankDesertState/TerritoryArea, km squared% of Australia
1Great Victoria DesertWestern Australia, South Australia348,7504.5%
2Great Sandy DesertWestern Australia267,2503.5%
3Tanami DesertWestern Australia, Northern Territory184,5002.4%
4Simpson DesertNorthern Territory, Queensland, South Australia176,500 2.3%
5Gibson DesertWestern Australia156,000 2.0%
6Little Sandy DesertWestern Australia111,500 1.5%
7Strzelecki DesertSouth Australia, Queensland, New South Wales80,250 1.0%
8Sturt Stony DesertSouth Australia, Queensland, New South Wales29,750 0.3%
9Tirari DesertSouth Australia15,250 0.2%
10Pedirka DesertSouth Australia1,2500.016%

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